Let’s Talk About Gluten

Why not?  Everybody else is!

Seriously, I just did a Google search for “gluten” and got sixty-six million results.  You can’t swing a cat on the internets (or in a bookstore) without rubbing up against some gluten.  

What exactly is the stuff, anyway?  Let’s go to Wikipedia, shall we?

“Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye.”

Hmm.  That’s a broad net.  I eat a lot of foods (actual Pollan-definition foods) “processed from wheat and related grain species.”

What’s the problem with it?  The editors at Slate had the same question.  I’ll condense their answers for you.  Essentially, there appear to be a couple of issues: First, there’s this thing called celiac disease.  About one of every one-hundred Americans has celiac disease.  That means – medically speaking – you probably don’t have celiac disease (Ok, if enough of you read this, yes, you do have it, but not all of  you have it).  It’s an auto-immune disease that does particularly nasty things to you based on your inability to process gluten correctly.

The second thing might be “baker’s asthma” or a wheat allergy.  It’s present in about the same numbers as celiac disease.  Which means you probably aren’t allergic to wheat either.

Now, there’s this book/diet/phenomenon out there called Wheat Belly.  The guy who wrote it is a cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, and he’s sold a bunch of books.  I am neither a cardiologist nor a bestselling author, so please receive my review of his work accordingly.  I read his book, and it turns out Dr. Davis is convinced that whatever ails you is the caused by modern wheat. He makes a convincing argument for a time that modern wheat is a lot different from its more ancient relatives, and I’m sure that’s true.  I’m equally convinced that there are more people for whom wheat is a problem in the 21st century than, say, the 19th.  I am not convinced, however, that everything that’s wrong with me and you – from heart disease to attitude – can be cured by walking away from our favorite grain products.

“But dude,” you say, “I just gave up wheat and I feel so much better!”  I reply that I do not doubt that one bit.  I’ll bet if I cut wheat out of my diet I’d feel better for a while too.  Because when you cut wheat out, you, as a rule, have cut out bread, donuts, beer (yes, beer), rye whiskey (sucker), most cold cereals and a variety of other products that, if consumed in large amounts, will make you feel bad. When you give up something like that you also can’t help but be intentional about your eating, which, as I’ve long preached on this blog, is a very, very good thing.

You’ll lose weight, feel good, etc. Just like you would on any other “diet.”  Same thing happens on a low-fat diet. Atkins, Pritikin, etc.  And then you start to really miss what you’ve taken away.  And then you eat a little of it.  And then you eat a lot of it.  And they you’re worse-off than when you started.

Look, if your actual physician tests you for celiac disease or a wheat allergy and you actually have one, you should give wheat up today. But if you’re on this because Doc Davis sounds convincing (he’s a cardiologist – of course he sounds convincing), I recommend you take a deep breath and step away from the gluten hysteria.

Instead of worrying about whether your vitamin supplement contains wheat starch (yes, if you’re serious about a gluten-free diet, it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass), just (you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?) Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

Thanks for reading, as always.  On Wednesday, a whole new list of terrifying foods.  


One response to this post.

  1. […] Found out that Sprightly Daughter Number One has a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome. As a component of that syndrome she has Celiac Disease. Which is sort of a cosmic comeuppance for having written this piece. […]


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